6 December 2019

A Long Weekend in Seville: Bex's Guide

For the past two years, my mum and I have taken a short European city break together — Budapest last year and Prague the year before. This year, we flew south instead of east to Seville, Spain's fourth-largest city and the capital of Andalucía. Although I've been to Spain a number of times, my visits to date have been centred around Barcelona and Bilbao, so it was great to finally go to the south of the country. We spent three full days in Seville, arriving on Friday evening and flying home late on Monday night. Although we were there in late November, the weather was very nice too: it was around 15 degrees and sunny for most of our trip, even if the drizzle did emerge on our last day.



THINGS TO DO
Plaza de España. As we were blessed with glorious sunshine on our first morning in Seville, we decided to go to the Plaza de España, a stunning plaza built for the Ibero-American exposition of 1929, first thing. The colourful mix of architectural styles looked particularly lovely in the morning light. It was already fairly busy, although became even busier than by the time we left. We had both assumed that the plaza would be worth a quick wander and a few photos, but there's lots to explore and we spent an hour crossing the bridges, climbing the stairs and checking out the colourful murals that celebrate each of Spain's provinces.



Seville Cathedral. Seville seems to like its superlatives and its cathedral remains the third-largest church, and the largest gothic church, in the world. It is indeed huge and to call it 'very ornate' is a massive understatement. Ah, Catholic gilt... We booked our tickets online in advance and indeed, there was a long line outside on Saturday afternoon. My favourite part was climbing up the Giralda, the bell tower, via a steeply winding ramp that allowed donkeys to carry imams up to conduct the call to prayer. From the top, there are great panoramic views of the city and close-up views of the massive bells in the open bell tower.



Real Alcázar. We booked our tickets in advance for the immense royal palace too, and again were grateful when we saw the long queue outside. Built for the 14th century King Peter of Castile, the palace exemplifies the Mudéjar architectural style, with many Islamic influences. There are many rooms and even more courtyards and gardens to explore, and without a logical route to follow, I was worried we were going to end up missing some locations. Perhaps we did, but what we saw, from the stunning tiling and golden domes, to leafy labyrinths and shaded gardens, was more than enough for one visit.




Las Setas de Sevilla. The Metropol Parasol, better known as the Setas (mushrooms) on account of their shape, won a competition to decide what should occupy Plaza de la Encarnación. For €3, you can ride the lift to the top of the 22-metre wooden structure, which offers a good view of the city and a rather unusual perspective as you follow the track across the top of the 'mushrooms'. Don't forget to visit the food market on the ground floor, where Corta y Cata serves some of the best jamón ibérico in the city. We bought several vacuum-sealed packages to take home.




Santa Cruz. We were staying in the former Jewish district of Seville and loved exploring its winding lanes, interspersed with leafy plazas.



Triana. We enjoyed a pleasant stroll in the Triana neighbourhood of Seville, on the west side of the River Guadalquivir. Calle Betis, which runs along the river, and the two or three streets parallel to it are particularly lovely, with attractive architecture and numerous churches, like the Capilla de los Marineros. We visited the small but interesting Centro Cerámica Triana, and did a little ceramics shopping afterwards. The Mercado de Triana, and neighbouring (and underlying) Castillo de San Jorge, with its distinctive dome, are also worth a visit.




La Macarena. On our last day in Seville, we spent several hours loosely following a walking tour in the Macarena district, a short walk north of the city centre. There are dozens of churches, palaces and historic buildings to visit. We particularly liked visiting the small hidden gem that is the Palacio Marqueses de la Algaba, the larger, grander 14th century Palacio de las Dueñas, and the Mercado de Feria. After ambling along the remains of the old city walls, we completed our tour of La Macarena and headed back to the centre.



FOOD & DRINK
My speciality coffee guide to Seville is already live. Here are some of the other eats and drinks we enjoyed during our trip (spoiler alert: jamón ibérico features heavily).

Spain Food Sherpas tapas tour. With so many tapas bars in Seville, it should be hard to go wrong, but my mum and I deferred to the experts on our first trip to the city. We booked a tapas tour with Spain Food Sherpas on our first full day in the city, which was €69 per person, including all food and drink, for a 3.5-hour tour. We ended up being the only participants on our tour with the knowledgeable Cristina, and had an enjoyable evening, visiting tapas spots from the traditional (El Rinconcillo, founded in 1670) to the more modern (Septimo, for hummus and guac, followed by melt-in-the-mouth pork cheek), via Bodeguita Romero for perfect tiny sandwiches called montaditos, and Bodega La Aurora for my favourite dish of the night: chorizo in infierno (see below). Cristina gave us lots of tips for places to eat and drink during the rest of our stay, and I'd highly recommend the tour.




Confitería La Campana. We visited this patisserie, which has been operating since 1885, for breakfast one morning. We perched at the brass counter and, although my Spanish isn't bad, I wasn't sure of the vocabulary of many of the sweet treats on offer and just pointed to the twisted, ring-shaped pastry I saw someone else order. I'm still not sure what it was called, but it was crumbly and sweet with a fruity glaze. The torrijas (French toast) looked great too.


Café Bar Las Teresas. We went to several traditional tapas bars during our visit but my favourite was Las Teresas, where the service was friendly, the décor was cosy, the wine was cheap and the jamón ibérico was plentiful. Although you can get a small tapa portion of ham for €2.50–3.00, we splashed out for the medio for about €9; even though we were going out for dinner afterwards, I could still have eaten more.


Mamarracha. As we arrived relatively late on Friday evening, I hadn't booked anywhere, figuring that we probably wouldn't starve. However, arriving at Mamarracha at around 9 pm and we were lucky to secure the last table. The food at this modern tapas joint was really good. We shared the smoked corn risotto, salmon tataki and a dish called paparracha, a sort of Spanish take on poutine with cheese, fried potatoes, ham and green onions. Three 'starters' and a pudding between the two of us was plenty of food. We were also amused that the 'mini G&T' on the menu came with a free pour of about three shots of gin! My only regret is that we didn't order the 'airbag ham' — I thought it was a bad translation, but it was jamón ibérico arranged over a puffed up piece flat bread, which was duly smashed on being served.


conTenedor. When looking for a late lunch in the Macarena district, I did a quick search of my Lonely Planet and found conTenedor, which was just about to open for lunch (NB: lunch is served from 1:30 to 4 pm). With colourful and quirky décor and excellent cooking, this was a great place for a leisurely lunch. Just for a change, we shared a plate of jamón ibérico to start, which was among the best of the trip. Then we shared two main courses between us: beautifully cooked turbot and a delicious pork loin with sweet potato and roasted veg. I didn't really have room for pudding, but we managed to share a cheesecake with roasted apples and pistachio ice cream. For more of a gastronomic experience, the same owners also run T.


El Pinton. This modern eatery was recommended to us by several people but was fully booked when we arrived on Friday night. Instead, we booked for Sunday night, when it wasn't quite so hectic. The room we were sitting in was beautiful, with gorgeous yellow tiling. Food-wise, we shared a burrata salad and the best croquetas of the trip (with tuna), followed by the chef's rice with squid and a delicious piece of roast salmon.




PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Accommodation: We stayed at Hotel Amadeus, a small, characterful hotel located on a tiny alley in the Santa Cruz neighbourhood, which had been recommended by several friends. Unsurprisingly, the hotel has a musical theme with various instruments on display throughout the property and rooms bearing the names of composers (my mum was happy to be staying in Vivaldi). The staff were very friendly, the location was great — under ten minutes' walk from pretty much everywhere we wanted to go — and the room was comfortable and quiet. Better still, the sunny, dual-level rooftop terrace had both a hot tub and great views of the cathedral and the city. We booked several months in advance, paying about £115 per night.


Arriving: Seville's airport is about 7 miles northwest of the city. Buses into the city run regularly, but as we were keen to get to our hotel and out for dinner, we took a taxi, which took about 15 minutes and cost about €25.

Getting around: Seville's city centre is small and you can easily walk to all of the main sights. There are also buses, trams and a one-line metro if you need to travel further afield.

Money: Spain uses the Euro and although credit cards are widely accepted, some of the places we visited were cash-only, so it's worth getting some Euros out in order not to be caught short. It's possible to eat and drink very well for very little money in Seville: a bounty of tapas plates — more than enough for two people — can be had for €10.

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